It had to be an excruciating flight home for Syracuse Saturday, after the Orange — just 4.2 seconds away from a wire-to-wire win over No. 7 ranked Villanova — incredibly wound up losing 82-77 in overtime.
Once the shock and disappointment wears off, the Orange could perhaps take pride they were in the position to take Nova to the brink in the first place. That might be the first step ensuring they get the job done next time.
"We’ve just got to find ways to pull out these close ones,’’ said guard Michael Gbinije, who scored 18 points and handed out five assists. "This is a big game that definitely would’ve put us on the map.We were looking forward to the upset. Unfortunately we just came up short."
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While Syracuse fans blamed a 27-17 foul disparity that resulted in top gun Rakeem Christmas (18) and freshman Chris McCullough fouling out as Villanova shot 14 more free throws, they’d also have to concede the ‘Cuse didn’t finish off the Wildcats off when they had the chance.
"We had them beaten for almost 40 minutes," said Trevor Cooney, whose sank both ends of a one-and-one to put his team up 69-64 with 17.2 seconds left, before disaster struck. "Everyone knows this would’ve been a huge win.But we’re right there. That’s the one thing this shows. Villanova’s not gonna lose alot of games this year and we were right with them."
Someone asked Jim Boeheim to look ahead and project what a game like this might mean come NCAA Tournament time in March. The craggy coach, who knows he doesn’t have any Derrick Colemans, Rony Seikalys, Pearl Washingtons or Carmelo Anthonys on this team, wouldn’t take the bait.
"I'm not even thinking about that," said Boeheim, whose 6-4 team figures to be in the middle of the pack in the ACC. "I'm thinking about playing Colgate.March is a long ways away."
But if they can shoot like they did in the first half (63%) and wreak havoc in their famed 2-3 zone like they did while building a 43-31 first half lead, perhaps this loss will benefit them in the long run.
"Villanova is one of the best teams we’ll play this year," Cooney said. "They’re unbelievable defensively, but we scored a lot of points on them.We were able to run our stuff and make plays. If we play like that we’re not gonna losea lot of games."
Boeheim seconded that.
"I thought we played the best we’ve played all year," said the man who’s won 954 games, a National championship and four trips to the Final Four. "We came in there on their court and played a pretty good basketball game, which is all you can ask for.But when you have control; of the game you need to finish it."
Perhaps next time, having learned from this, they will.